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Modesty is a state of mind

John Steinbeck, one of America's most popular novelists, once said, "Texas is a state of mind." The same thing can be said about modesty, the state or quality of being modest. Modesty is a state of mind. Modesty is actually conceptualized in several different but related contexts.

Standards of modesty vary by time period, culture and location
Alexandre Jacques Chantron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Modesty can mean simplicity or it can refer to humility or unpretentiousness. But here, as a state of mind, we refer to modesty as applied to a mode of dress or deportment intended not to invite attention or to encourage sexual attraction.

One of the criticisms leveled at nudists and naturists by those who disapprove of open nudity is that it is immodest. It's inherently immodest they charge because the genitals are being openly displayed and of course everyone knows that is indecent. Why? Because those are sexual parts.

It is understandably why people consider the genitals sexual. That is the context in which they are operative so when the genitals are displayed, to those who follow that simplistic line of reasoning, it is a sexual situation. What they fail to consider, as the practice social nudity demonstrates, is that there are circumstances where genitals are openly displayed along with the rest of the body but are not operative nor intended to be, so the situation isn't sexual.

[More from Dallas Nudist Culture Examiner: Nudity remains a taboo censored by the majority]

Beyond the obvious purpose, genitals perform other useful biological functions. That doesn't really need explanation. The point is it isn't really possible to construct a rational, logical argument that genitals are inherently sexual. They are intrinsically sexual or "private" parts only in the sense that people choose to sexualize them. Not only that but people can and do sexualize non-genital body parts.

There are fetishists; individuals who mental health professionals say suffer from paraphilias, a mental health term for sexual deviance triggered by objects or situations that are not ordinarily considered erotic. The most common fetishes involve human body parts like feet, legs, buttocks, hands and even elbows.

According to psychologist Barry McCarthy, "Fetishes usually develop in childhood or adolescence" usually "due to an experience in childhood that, for whatever reason, gave a powerful sexual charge to that object [the fetish]."

Dr. Mark Schwartz, a practicing psychologist in St. Louis, adds, "patients who develop fetishes have often been victims of sexual trauma earlier in life. Usually, when someone has a bizarre arousal pattern, there has been something in their past that has made them susceptible to something deviant, or something unusual occurred."

While it is true that in our society and culture it is considered normal for people to consider the genitals erotic, Dr. Rob Cover, in his article, "The naked subject: Nudity, context and sexualization in contemporary culture" observed that “nakedness, as the exposure of the genitals, cannot be disconnected [by most people] from sexuality” and that "the fixation with genital sex [in Western culture] is responsible for the conflation of nakedness and sexuality."

The point of all the psychological discussion is this. It may not be considered abnormal in our culture for people to view genitals as sexually charged objects simply because it is so common, but it can very easily be argued that those who insist on sexualizing genitals regardless of context develop that point of view in a very similar way to how people develop fetishes involving body parts not usually considered erotic, "an experience in childhood that, for whatever reason, gave a powerful sexual charge to that object."

Because talking about sex is so uncomfortable for many parents they simply leave up it up to their children to figure it out on their own, likely the same way they had to. That leaves children to grow up into adults who are confused about sex and sexuality and many just never come to grips with it.

"Nudity is a taboo in America because we primarily equate nudity or nakedness with sexuality and we have taboos about sexuality," said Matthew Westra, a psychology professor at Longview Community College in Missouri, in the National Geographic Channel documentary Taboo: Extreme Living. It is the prevalent ambivalence about sex and sexuality in our culture that explains why many cannot separate nudity from sex and why they insist that open nudity is indecent and immoral.

Modesty is a function of time, space and context. Social norms and modesty standards change over time and vary by culture and geographic location. As examples, until 1936 men were arrested for going topless in public. In 1946 when the original bikini was designed, the designer had to hire a stripper to model it because no "decent" woman was willing to wear it. Finally, modes of dress perfectly acceptable in our culture would be considered scandalously immodest in Islamic society.

A nude person can be as modest as any clothed person. Being openly nude is not by definition immodest. That is simply an artificial social construct. Nudists and naturists simply reject the prudish social norms of mainstream society. They have adopted their own cultural social norms. They have different modesty standards from the larger culture to which they belong. Modesty is a state of mind.

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